High quality racing, customer service, and history were the subjects of a New York Racing Association media event June 24 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at which the organization's executives detailed plans for this summer's race meet.
Emceed by Eric Wing, NYRA's director of communications and media relations, Monday's event featured presentations by David O'Rourke, vice president of corporate development and one of NYRA's three interim managers; Stephen Travers, vice president of hospitality, guest services, and group sales; P.J. Campo, vice president and director of racing; and Rodnell Workman, vice president and chief marketing officer.
While this summer's meet will be the 145th in Saratoga, both the town and the track are celebrating the sesquicentennial of racing in Saratoga Springs, commemorating the first meet in 1863. That meet took place on the grounds of what is now the Oklahoma training track; racing moved across the street to the current site in 1864.
The Saratoga meet opens Friday, July 19 and runs through Monday, Sept. 2, with Tuesdays dark.
Many of NYRA's summer initiatives will offer a historical spin on familiar themes. This summer's giveaway T-shirt, on Sunday, July 28, will sport the official Saratoga 150 logo; on Sunday, Aug. 18, the track will give away replica models of Saratoga Race Course. Other giveaways include a Fourstardave bobblehead on Sunday, Aug. 11, honoring the horse who won a race at Saratoga annually from 1987 to 1994, and on Sunday, Sept. 1, the giveaway is a Saratoga beer stein emblazoned with some of the most popular horses ever to have raced at Saratoga. Giveaways are free with paid admission while supplies last.
Among this summer's racing highlights is the possibility of seeing Orb , Oxbow , and Palace Malice in the $1 million Travers Stakes (gr. I) on Aug. 24. Should all three run in the 144th edition of the race, it will be the first time since 1991 that the winners of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, all grade I stakes for 3-year-olds, would meet in Saratoga's signature race. Campo said that he expects all three horses to train at Saratoga this summer.
Competing with Travers Day for top billing at this year's meet will be Aug. 3, the day of the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) and the 150th anniversary of the first day of the first Thoroughbred meeting in Saratoga. Free with paid admission will be a commemorative 150th anniversary poster while supplies last, and the day will feature the first in a series of five $15,000 win-wager opportunities, courtesy of Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson, a special advisor to NYRA's board.
Among the possible starters in the Whitney, according to Campo, is Fort Larned , winner of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. I). Campo said that he thought Horse of the Year Wise Dan was a possibility to run either in the Whitney or to try to repeat in the Fourstardave (gr. IIT) on Aug. 10.
Among other stakes highlights are the Diana Stakes (gr. IT) and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), each worth $600,000, on July 27; the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) and Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) on Aug. 17, each also worth $600,000; and on closing weekend, the $750,000 Woodward (gr. I), $300,000 Spinaway Stakes (gr. I), and the $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful, restored to grade I status after a year as a grade II event.
Altogether, the meet will offer 53 listed and graded stakes races, 18 of them grade I, worth $14.95 million.
Among the customer service initiatives this summer are guided walking tours of the track, offering a historical overview of the track's highlights, landscape, and architecture. Tours will be offered multiple times each day except for Tuesdays and Travers Day. The cost will be $3 per person or $10 for a family of four.
It was also announced that at this point there are no new security measures in place for the Saratoga meeting, and that patrons will be able to bring in coolers as they have in the past. Coolers were among the many items prohibited at this year's Belmont Stakes, in the wake of heightened security following the Boston Marathon bombings.
For the first time this year, patrons will be able to park at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway on Nelson Avenue and take a free shuttle bus to the track, in an effort to alleviate the frustration customers have often felt due to the limited parking around Saratoga Race Course. Shuttle buses will run twice each hour.
Handicappers in search of prize money and a spot in the 2014 DRF/NTRA handicapping tournament in Las Vegas can compete in the $200,000 tournament at Saratoga on Aug. 7-8.
NBC's "Summer in Saratoga" series will continue this summer with seven Saturday broadcasts, beginning on July 27 and ending on Aug. 31. In response to local community's concerns, NYRA has eliminated all but one twilight racing card; that will take place on Friday, Aug. 30 with a post time of 2:30 pm.
The Saratoga meet opens Friday, July 19 and runs through Monday, Sept. 2, with Tuesdays dark. Post time is 1 p.m. (EDT) daily, with the exception of the Aug. 30 twilight card and closing day, when first post will be 12:30 p.m.